MOVIE JOURNAL: Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer

It’s that time of the year again where celebrities are restocking their Botox supply in preparation for Red Carpet Premiers. My prediction is that such displays of anesthetized beauty will be adequately mild in the following months, since neither a “Sex and the City” nor a “The Expendables” sequel will be released this year. Three cheers! And no more “Twilight” movies to piss on our brains! Thank the heavens! And! Say it ain’t so! The next Michael Bay movie won’t be in theaters until 2014! Hallelujah!

The season of Summer Movies is once again here, which is an event that belongs to Producers, a lot of which will be biting their nails all the way to their project’s release date. Jerry Bruckheimer won’t be one of them biters though. Just take a quick look at his track record.

With a net worth of $850 million, they guy clearly has everything all figured out. Bruckheimer reminds me of one of those wizards at horse races who always casts his cash on the horse that’ll end up making him rich. His horse for 2013 is Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” starring Johnny Depp, which has the aura of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, with trains as pirate ships, Tonto as Captain Jack Sparrow and Armie Hammer as Orlando Bloom.

While Kristen Stewart tries to find another job that only requires her to daydream and stare into vacant space, let’s take a brief look at the first two Summer Movies of the year: “Oz the Great and the Powerful” and “Jack the Giant Slayer”.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful  Rating: ★★½☆☆

When circus magician Oscar Diggs emerges from the refuge of his hot-air balloon, his relief quickly turns into awe as the Land of Oz fills his sense of wonder. While younger audiences will marvel at the kingdom as much as Oscar, I couldn’t help but fear that the same tools that help build a shinier, zestier Oz would also be the cause of the film’s downfall.

2013’s Land of Oz looks like it’s within the same neighborhood as Avatar’s Pandora and Alice’s Wonderland. It’s bright and vivid, but it’s James Franco who gives life to the screen. Though marked as one of the most awful hosts in the history of the Oscars, he is a likeable actor, and he plays Oz with theatrical energy. Too bad he is weighed down by Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams, who are as terrible at being witches as much as James Franco is terrible at being an Oscar Host.

Most of the film’s joy is supplied by the returning elements from 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz”. (Good news for those who have seen Victor Fleming’s masterpiece, but what about the folks who are visiting the Land of Oz for the first time?) There is a satisfaction in simply seeing familiar things like the yellow brick road. And Emerald City. And Kansas! And the Muchkins! About the Muchkins though: What’s the point of having them in the film if you’re not gonna allow them to finish their thing?

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is not without the silly fun that represents director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man Trilogy), and the screenplay inserts enough references to tickle our memory, but the story fades away in the film’s final sequences, where Oz becomes just another stage for special effects. How very disappointing. Though a solid hour swings between cute and amusing, this 200 million dollar prequel is still a couple colors short of a rainbow.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer Rating: ★★★☆☆

There are those rare instances when a bad trailer sucker punches you just so the actual movie could kill your lowered expectations once it’s time for the screening. Such is my experience with “Jack the Giant Slayer”, a surprisingly entertaining adventure tale about giants, beanstalks, and the strength and consistency of Ewan McGregor’s hair styling product. I’m serious. What is he using and where can I get one?

Let’s begin at the point of the film where things become interesting. The Princess seeks shelter from the storm at the house of a Young Farmer. They flirt subtly. And then they flirt blatantly. The two of them are about to make a romantic connection until – until a damn beanstalk explodes from the floor, launching the Young Farmer out of his own home. I hate it when that happens. The house, with The Princess trapped inside, is carried to the sky as the beanstalk continues to grow.

The beanstalk takes the Young Farmer, accompanied by a few of The King’s men, to a floating city so immense and so broad, that we wonder why it doesn’t create a shadow on the ground. They encounter roaring giants who aren’t as ferocious as they are hilarious. Legends say that the giants are desperate to climb down their kingdom and rule the land of the humans, probably to escape each other’s stench. There is more breathing room downstairs, you see.

All the notable names involved in “Jack the Giant Slayer” are way above the material they were presented with. I think what makes it all so darn fun is the director’s and actors’ playful attitude towards the movie. Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) show that he knows how to have fun by capitalizing on the goofy look of the giants and by staging a situation where Ewan McGregor becomes an oven away from becoming a burrito.

Stanley Tucci has the best role in the film as Roderick, a scheming, middle-aged bachelor who exercises an evil plan to control the giants. Roderick, in all his gap-toothed glory, is the kind of role that an actor like Tucci would accept for the sole purpose of making a few nephews proud. “Hey! Guess what? My uncle made an army of giants bow down to him while wearing a glowing crown!”

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MOVIE JOURNAL: Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer